During my gap year after my high school graduation in June 2020, I made the decision to drop everything and move to Paris for three and a half months the following spring. I was there living with a host family from late March to early July 2021. Throughout this time – and my return visit this past summer – I was able to discover what makes Paris so magical, and I’m eager to share this magic with you!
Here are my top suggestions for museums, parks, and experiences that shaped my life in Paris, and photos I took to capture the time!
Museums: I love a good museum. Paris is filled to the brim with a multitude of great museums, covering many different eras and topics. The well-known ones, such as the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay, are lovely spots that you should be sure to check out. However, they are always teeming with tourists, which impedes the overall museum experience. My favorite museum experiences in Paris were at the Centre Pompidou, Rodin and Cite de Sciences et de L’Industrie.
Le Centre Pompidou was done in an interesting architectural style – the idea was to take the exterior of the structure and turn it inside out. Therefore, the building is covered in pipes and construction metal, and even has escalators on the outside of the building. These escalators will give you a phenomenal view of the city when you go up the floors. As you discover the art, prepare to be confused, but in the best way possible. Centre Pompidou has a huge collection of contemporary art, ranging from pieces on tiny canvases to installations that fill an entire room. No matter where you look, you’ll be sure to find draw dropping works.
Here, you can see the crazy exterior of the Centre Pompidou, as well as the outside escalator!
Le Musee Rodin is an entirely different yet equally enjoyable experience. The art is housed in a smaller repurposed hotel with beautiful gardens behind it. One reason that this museum is a personal favorite is because of how laid back the experience is. The entirety of the art in the building will take you roughly about an hour to view – you can go slowly, not having to worry about the huge crowds other museums see. Once you’ve taken your time to experience all the details of the art, you can then move outside to experience the gardens and sculptures. Here, you will be able to see “The Thinker.” These gardens are peaceful and relaxing; I absolutely suggest bringing a book to stay a while and appreciate the space.
Exterior and part of the gardens of the Musee Rodin
La Cite de Sciences et de L’Industrie is one of my favorite science museums I’ve ever been to. There are super interesting exhibits, such as one devoted to robots, which featured a robot that can read your emotions! My favorite exhibit was the one about the history of gaming, named the e-LAB. This exhibit included many different types of games available to play as well as a gallery showing how the modes of gameplay have developed over the years. This was the first and hopefully last time I will ever see a Wii console in a museum… feel old yet?
Parks: Paris has literally hundreds of parks and garden spaces around the city. Again, the well-known locations, such as le Jardin des Tuilleries and Le Jardin du Luxembourg are beautiful, but they’re so popular that they tend to be far more crowded and less relaxing than other options. It doesn’t take much to wander Paris and stumble upon a new green space to explore. My starting suggestions would be Parc de la Vilette, Parc des Buttes Chaumont and Parc Monceau.
Parc de la Vilette is a huge greenspace up in the 19th arrondissement. It houses la Cite de Sciences et de L’Industrie, among other attractions. It is a beautiful park with the Canal de l’Ourcq flowing through and plenty of space to sit and enjoy the water. During my stay in Paris, I loved to bring a good book and sit by the water to escape the movement of the city.
Further up the river that runs through Parc de la Vilette
Parc des Buttes Chaumont is a dynamic park in the southern section of the 19th arrondissement. It is best known for the Temple de la Sibylle, a small temple atop a hill that looks over the entire park. However, one of my favorite spots is deeper into the park; Another hill lies beyond the temple, and at the top of this one, you can see all the way out to the Sacre-Coeur! This is my favorite spot in the park to plop down for a picnic with friends.
The Temple de la Sibylle overlooking the water
Parc Monceau is a beautiful spot with classic European charm. It was built back in the 17th century and features classic French architecture all around the park. Situated in the 8th arrondissement, this is a great place for both people watching and even duck watching! The park has many water features throughout, with many benches to sit and enjoy the scenery.
Experiences: Paris offers countless unique experiences all across the city. Outside of the tourist favorites, there are many lesser-known adventures to be had. Even just walking around the city, you’re sure to encounter something that you’ll want to stop and enjoy. Better yet, there’s many planned excursions to take, bringing you closer to the true culture of Paris. My three favorite outings can be planned or spontaneous – every time I am in Paris, I am sure to stop in Le Marais for a drink, sit by the Opera House steps in summer to watch the dancers and visit L’atelier des Lumieres for an immersive art experience.
Le Marais is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris. It’s full of youth and energy and there is always something to see/do there. Le Marais is full of cute boutiques, secondhand shops, art, restaurants and bars. It’s a great spot to grab some food and stay a while for drinks after. The vibrancy of this neighborhood is invigorating and it’s a great area to end your day with.
Exterior of a few restaurants along le Rue des Archives – one of the most active streets in Le Marais!
While the Paris Opera House is a wonderful place itself, there is just as much life outside its walls as inside. Oftentimes, people will stop on the steps out front to enjoy some food, catch up with friends and even enjoy some live music. In the warm months, I highly recommend coming here just before sunset. Many nights, there will be music and people dancing just outside the Opera House. It’s a great experience to sit on the sidelines and enjoy, but if you’re feeling up to it you and a partner can join in as well!
Here, you can see the crowd gathered by the steps on a warm summer night.
L’atelier des Lumieres is one of the original immersive art experiences. With ever-changing exhibitions, there is always a reason to come back. The exhibitions feature animated art from throughout history set to art from more contemporary artists. The curators do a fantastic job pairing the art and music – I have seen exhibitions from Dali set to Pink Floyd to Kandinsky set to David Bowie. L’atelier des Lumieres is always one of my top picks when I have a couple hours to spare to enjoy some great art.
Interior of L’atelier des Lumieres
My time in Paris was lifechanging for me and I love to share about the experiences that truly made it so wonderful. I love the city and cannot wait to go back – I’m so jealous of all of our groups traveling there this Spring with ACIS France itineraries!
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